Emmanuel Petit (Jean Petit Architectes)

“Participate in a global discourse”


“I argue that architecture is not foremost a service to clients, but it is a ‘discipline’  –  a particular method of construing the real  –   just like music, mathematics, law, or poetry.” (Photo: DR)

Ahead of the «10x6 Les architectes luxembourgeois qui s’exportent» organised by the Paperjam Club on Wednesday 17 October, one of our speakers, Emmanuel Petit (Jean Petit Architectes), explains his international vision of architecture. 

Mister Petit, why did you choose to export your talent outside Luxembourg?

“For generations, crossing borders has not really been a matter of choice for Luxembourgers – including for Luxembourgish architects –, but a natural step.

The education of a Luxembourgish architect inevitably starts within a heterogeneous topography of universities, from Zurich to Vienna, and from Brussels to London.

Today, with our contemporary mass media and mass communication, going ‘abroad’ has lost its aura of the distanced and the foreign: there is no architecture in Luxembourg that is not at the same time related in one way or another to international or global ideologies and movements. Not to understand these global trends limits our ability to act even locally.

More generally, architects have traditionally ventured out into the world also to better connect to the local context: Famously, Le Corbusier set out to his ‘Voyage to the Orient’, and exported buildings and ideas far beyond the borders of Europe – to North America, North Africa, and India. Being Swiss by birth, he ended up getting the honour of a French State funeral in Paris.

Can a Luxembourg architecture be “exported” abroad?

“I argue that architecture is not foremost a service to clients, but it is a ‘discipline’ – a particular method of construing the real – just like music, mathematics, law, or poetry. And therefore, before architects even begin to think up, produce and export their knowledge about how to put together a building, they exchange and debate ideas.

Architecture is first and foremost made of concepts and ideas. And while the buildings we design and build are rooted in particular geographical contexts, architectural ideas freely traverse borders. It is not surprising that the built environment in Luxembourg is not shaping up with Haussmannian uniformity, but has absorbed a sense of heterogeneity which characterises most of our contemporary global cities. To me, this fact is culturally enriching. To export a Luxembourgish architecture abroad means to participate in a global discourse. 

What specificities should be considered when developing an architectural project in a culturally different country?

“Like most disciplines, architecture finds its natural home in academia. In this context, it is liberated from the short-lived tactics of the pragmatic and the technocratic, and can cultivate its own, internal themes. And so academia was, for me, the main centre of attraction to choose a geographical location: I followed my own academic career from Zurich to Hong Kong, Princeton (New Jersey) to New Haven (Connecticut) and Boston (Massachusetts), and London to Lausanne.

The internet allows me to live and work in one place, while staying connected to an international discursive network. In Luxembourg, I am local and connected; in New York, I was also local and connected. This is not a matter of choice, but it its conditioned by the zeitgeist. So the real difference here is not what country one chooses to operate in, but what sort of discourse one chooses to relate to. For me, academia has been the cultural home of architecture.”

Registrations for the «10x6 Les architectes luxembourgeois qui s’exportent» are open on the Paperjam Club website.